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Borough of Glassboro v. Vallorosi

Decided: January 30, 1990.

BOROUGH OF GLASSBORO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT AND CROSS-RESPONDENT,
v.
DIANE VALLOROSI AND PAUL SAGES, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS AND CROSS-APPELLANTS



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. For reversal -- None.

Per Curiam

[117 NJ Page 422] The narrow issue presented in this case is whether a group of ten unrelated college students living in defendants' home constitutes a "family" within the definition of a restrictive zoning ordinance. The Borough of Glassboro concedes that a primary purpose of the ordinance was to prevent groups of unrelated college students from living together in the Borough's residential districts. The ordinance limits residence in such districts to stable and permanent "single housekeeping units" that constitute either a "traditional family unit" or its functional equivalent. The Chancery Division concluded that the relationship among this group of students and their living arrangements

within the home demonstrated the "generic character" of a family, and denied the Borough injunctive relief. 221 N.J. Super. 610, 620 (1987). The Appellate Division affirmed. 224 N.J. Super. 91 (1988). We now affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division.

I.

In July 1986, the Borough amended its zoning ordinance, apparently in response to a rowdy weekend celebration by Glassboro State College students. The amendment applied to the Borough's residential districts and limited the use and occupancy of "detached dwellings" and structures with "two dwelling units" to "families" only. The ordinance defined a "family" as

one or more persons occupying a dwelling unit as a single non-profit housekeeping unit, who are living together as a stable and permanent living unit, being a traditional family unit or the functional equivalency [sic] thereof. [Glassboro, N.J., Code § 107-3 (1986).]

The amendment included a statement of purpose that plainly reflected the Borough's intention to confine college students either to the dormitories provided by Glassboro State College or to the other zoning districts that permit apartments and townhouses:

The preservation of "family style living" and the preservation of the character of residential neighborhoods as such are legitimate zoning goals. The Borough of Glassboro is concerned with maintaining the stability and permanence generally associated with single family occupancy throughout its residential neighborhoods. A municipality may endeavor, by legitimate means, to secure and maintain the blessings of quiet seclusion and to make available to its inhabitants the refreshment of repose and the tranquility of solitude. The Borough of Glassboro possesses these goals and, by the regulation herein contained, implements them in a manner which bears a reasonable relationship to the problem sought to be ameliorated. That problem is the use and occupancy of single family and two family dwellings, interspersed among the residential neighborhoods of the community, by groups of individuals whose living arrangements, although temporarily in the same dwelling unit, are transient in nature and do not possess the elements of stability and permanency which have long been associated with single family occupancy. Such living arrangements are not compatible with the family style living sought to be preserved. Such occupancies are in the nature of rooming houses, boarding

homes, hotels, motels, and the like. Such uses do not meet the definition of family as contained in this ordinance and are prohibited in detached dwellings and structures with two dwelling units in all residential zones. This ordinance provides zoning classifications which allow for ample apartment and townhouse uses, and there are presently many such uses in existence throughout the Borough. Likewise, Glassboro State College maintains substantial dormitory and apartment facilities for students and faculty members. Therefore, ample housing exists within the Borough for college students and others who choose to live under arrangements which do not meet the definition of family as provided in this ordinance. [ Id., § 107-93B.]

In June 1986, defendants purchased a home located in the restricted residential zone. The purchase was intended to provide a college home for Peter Vallorosi, the brother of defendant Diane Vallorosi and the son of two partners in S & V Associates, a real-estate investment partnership. (Under the partnership agreement, S & V Associates acquired equitable title to the premises when defendants purchased the home.) It was contemplated that nine of Peter's friends would share the house with him while the group attended Glassboro State College. Seven of the ten students renting the house were sophomores at the time their lease took effect. They were all between the ages of eighteen and twenty. All ten students entered into separate, renewable leases for a semester-long period of four months. At the end of each semester, a student could renew the lease for another term "if the house is found to be in order at [the] end of [the preceding] term."

The students moved into their new home in early September 1986. The house had one large kitchen, which was shared by all ten students. The students often ate meals together in small groups, cooked for each other, and generally shared the household chores, grocery shopping, and yard work. A common checking account paid for food and other bills. They shared the use of a telephone. Although uncertain of living arrangements after graduation, the students intended to remain tenants as long as they were enrolled at Glassboro State College.

The Borough commenced this action in September 1986, seeking an injunction against the use and occupancy of the house by

the students. The complaint alleged that the occupants did not constitute a "family" as defined in the Borough's ordinance. Defendants contended that the amendment to the zoning ordinance was not authorized by the Municipal Land Use Law, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 to -112, and violated the New Jersey Constitution in that it regulated a class of people rather than a use of property. Defendants also challenged the amendment as inconsistent with the Borough's master plan and therefore invalid because of non-compliance with N.J.S.A. 40:55D-62a (authorizing adoption of zoning amendment inconsistent with master plan by vote of majority of entire governing body with statement of reasons set forth in resolution and recorded in minutes). Further, defendants contended that the students' occupancy was a protected non-conforming use because the amendment did not become effective until filed with the Gloucester County Planning Board in November 1986, citing N.J.S.A. 40:55D-16. Finally, defendants argued that the communal nature of the students' occupancy, coupled with their intention to live there together throughout their college careers, satisfied the ordinance's requirement that any occupancy be functionally equivalent to "a traditional family unit."

The Chancery Division upheld the constitutionality of the ordinance, but did not address defendants' contentions that the ordinance was inconsistent with the Borough's master plan or that the ordinance did not take effect until after the students had commenced occupancy of the house. The court focused on whether the specific circumstances of the students' occupancy satisfied the ordinance's requirements:

The testimony that was most helpful to the Court in determining if a group of young men living together exhibited the "generic character" of a family was that of the students themselves. They stated that they do not just rent a room, but that they rent the whole house. The common areas are shared by all with free access; there is one kitchen that is used by the students and meals are either eaten together or in small groups. There is a common checkbook from which the bills of running the house are paid. Although their ...


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